Oddly busy these days, and getting the house prepped for sale certainly doesn’t help, free time wise, so I’ll leave you all with this.
I’ve posted this story from John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education before, bit this is needed today more than ever. More actual education takes place in this one scene than in 16 years of standard schooling:
The greatest intellectual event of my life occurred early in third grade before I was yanked out of Xavier and deposited back in Monongahela. From time to time a Jesuit brother from St. Vincent’s College would cross the road to give a class at Xavier. The coming of a Jesuit to Xavier was always considered a big-time event even though there was constant tension between the Ursuline ladies and the Jesuit men. One lesson I received at the visiting brother’s hands2 altered my consciousness forever. By contemporary standards, the class might seem impossibly advanced in concept for third grade, but if you keep in mind the global war that claimed major attention at that moment, then the fact that Brother Michael came to discuss causes of WWI as a prelude to its continuation in WWII is not so far-fetched.3 After a brief lecture on each combatant and its cultural and historical characteristics, an outline of incitements to conflict was chalked on the board.
“I will, Brother Michael,” I said. And I did.
“Why did you say what you did?”
“Because that’s what you wrote.”
“Do you accept my explanation as correct?”
“Yes, sir.” I expected a compliment would soon follow, as it did with our regular teacher.
“Then you must be a fool, Mr. Gatto. I lied to you. Those are not the causes at all.” It was like being flattened by a steamroller. I had the sensation of being struck and losing the power of speech. Nothing remotely similar had ever happened to me.
“Listen carefully, Mr. Gatto, and I shall show you the true causes of the war which men of bad character try to hide,” and so saying he rapidly erased the board and in swift fashion another list of reasons appeared. As each was written, a short, clear explanation followed in a scholarly tone of voice.
“Now do you see, Mr. Gatto, why you must be careful when you accept the explanation of another? Don’t these new reasons make much more sense?”
“And could you now face the back of the room and repeat what you just learned?”
“I could, sir.” And I knew I could because I had a strong memory, but he never gave me that chance.
“Why are you so gullible? Why do you believe my lies? Is it because I wear clothing you associate with men of God? I despair you are so easy to fool. What will happen to you if you let others do your thinking for you?”
You see, like a great magician he had shifted that commonplace school lesson we would have forgotten by the next morning into a formidable challenge to the entire contents of our private minds, raising the important question, Who can we believe? At the age of eight, while public school children were reading stories about talking animals, we had been escorted to the eggshell-thin foundation upon which authoritarian vanity rests and asked to inspect it.
There are many reasons to lie to children, the Jesuit said, and these seem to be good reasons to older men. Some truth you will know by divine intuition, he told us, but for the rest you must learn what tests to apply. Even then be cautious. It is not hard to fool human intelligence.
Then, we’re stuck with a world hell-bent on illustrating an observation by Mark Twain: It is much easier to fool somebody than to convince them they’ve been fooled.